Mercury

Mercury is now heading towards superior conjunction, which it reaches on March 6th. From southern and tropical regions, the planet is visible in the morning sky during the first half of February. However, it remains low down above the eastern horizon. For example, on February 1st, Mercury shines at mag. -0.2 and will be 7 degrees high, one hour before sunrise from mid-southern latitudes. Each subsequent morning, it falls slightly back towards the Sun until finally lost to the bright twilight glare during the second week of the month. From mid-latitude northern locations, it's not observable.

On February 7th, Mercury reaches aphelion when it will be 0.467 AU (approx. 69.9 million kilometres or 43.4 million miles) from the Sun.

Venus

Venus remains a brilliant evening object throughout the month. The planet shines as an unmissable beacon of light above the western horizon. On February 17th, greatest illumination occurs when it peaks at mag. -4.9, which is about as bright as it ever gets. Positioned about 6 degrees east of Venus is Mars (mag. +1.2).

From northern temperate latitudes, Venus sets 4 hours after the Sun at the start of February, decreasing to 3 hours by months end. Southern Hemisphere observers don't have it so favourable; the visibility period is about 2 hours shorter.

On February 20th, Venus reaches perihelion at 0.718 AU (approx. 107 million kilometres or 66.7 million miles) from the Sun. The apparent size of the planet increases this month from 31 to 46 arc seconds with its illuminated phase decreasing from 40 to 18 percent. On the last day of the month, the waxing crescent Moon passes 10 degrees south of Venus.

Crescent Moon, Venus and Mars as seen one hour after sunset on February 1st from London, England (credit:- stellarium/freestarcharts)

Mars

Mars is now long past its best but remains visible in the evening sky, towards the west. The Red planet is moving direct in Pisces and as previously mentioned is positioned a few degrees from Venus. During February, its brightness fades slightly from mag. +1.1 to +1.3. Telescopically, Mars spans only 5 arc seconds in diameter and therefore too small for serious observational work.

On February 1st, the waxing crescent Moon passes 2 degrees south of Mars, providing nice evening viewing. Later on the 27th, Mars passes 0.6 degrees north of Uranus with both objects visible in the same binocular field of view.

Small telescope view of Mars and Uranus on February 27th (credit:- stellarium/freestarcharts)

Jupiter

Jupiter is located in Virgo and continues to increase in brightness and apparent size as it heads towards opposition in April. At the start of February, the Solar System's largest planet is a brilliant morning object, rising before midnight. By months end, it's visible during mid-evening.

This month, Jupiter brightens from mag. -2.1 to -2.3 with its apparent size improving from 39 to 42 arc seconds. On February 2nd, the planet reaches its first stationary point, which signals the start of this year's opposition period. Afterwards retrograde motion commences. First magnitude Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, is positioned 4 degrees south of Jupiter.

On February 15th, the waning gibbous Moon passes 3 degrees north of Jupiter. The following day, Jupiter reaches aphelion for the first time since 2005, when it moves out to 5.45 AU (approx. 816 million kilometres or 507 million miles) from the Sun. The planet then heads back towards perihelion, which it reaches on January 20, 2023. On this day, Jupiter will be located 4.95 AU (approx. 740 million kilometres or 460 million miles) from our star.

Jupiter during February 2017 (credit:- freestarcharts)

Jupiter during February 2017 - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

Jupiter offers something for all types of optical instrument. Binoculars reveal a small off-white coloured disk, without detail. Also visible are the four large Galilean moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto), which continuously change position as they orbit the planet. Occasionally all four are visible, but often some are hidden from view as they pass in front of, or behind the giant planet's disk.

When viewed through a telescope, Jupiter is a stunning sight. Even a small 80mm (3.1 inch) refractor shows the main equatorial cloud belts. Larger telescopes reveal much more details, including smaller belts, ovals, festoons, dark regions and the Great Red Spot.

Saturn

Saturn, mag. +0.6, is an early morning object moving direct. It starts the month in Ophiuchus, before crossing the constellation boundary and into Sagittarius on February 23rd. With a declination of 22 degrees south, the planet is better placed from southern and tropical latitudes, where it rises over 3 hours before the Sun at the beginning of February. The visibility period continues to improve as the month progresses and by months end, Saturn can be seen just after midnight. From northern temperate locations, the planet remains low down, rising around 4am local time on February 28th.

Through a telescope, Saturn's most famous feature is of course its spectacular rings. Even a small telescope will show them and they are currently displayed wide open at a 26-degree tilt. In addition, small scopes also show some of the larger Moons, including Titan.

The waning crescent Moon passes 4 degrees north of Saturn on February 20th.

Saturn during February 2017 (credit:- freestarcharts)

Saturn during February 2017 - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

Uranus

Uranus, mag. +5.9, remains an early evening binocular object during February. The seventh planet from the Sun and the first to be discovered in the telescope era is moving slowly direct in Pisces. It's visible towards the west as soon as dark enough. Positioned about 1.5 degrees west of Uranus is zeta Psc (ζ Psc - mag. +4.9). Located in the same region of sky as Uranus are Mars and Venus. Of course, there is no comparison in brightness. Mars is 70x brighter than Uranus with Venus 19,000x brighter! As previously mentioned, Mars passes 0.6 degrees north of Uranus on February 27th.

For those located at mid-northern latitudes, Uranus can be seen for some 5 hours on February 1st, reducing to around 3 hours by months end. From southern locations its visibility period is only about half as much.

At the beginning of the month, the thin waxing crescent Moon passes 3 degrees south of Uranus (Feb 2nd).

Venus, Mars and Uranus during February 2017 (credit:- freestarcharts)

Venus, Mars and Uranus during February 2017 - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

Neptune

Neptune is located in Aquarius. The distant blue planet is heading towards solar conjunction, which it reaches on March 2nd. Consequently, it's positioned inconveniently close to the Sun throughout the month and not suitably placed for observation.

Solar System Data Table February 2017

 DateRight AscensionDeclinationApparent MagnitudeApparent SizeIllum. (%)Distance from Earth (AU)Constellation
Sun5th Feb 201721h 14m 23.2s-15d 59m 53.3s-26.832.4'1000.986Capricornus
Sun15th Feb 201721h 53m 58.9s-12d 45m 51.6s-26.832.4'1000.988Capricornus
Sun25th Feb 201722h 32m 23.4s-09d 11m 10.1s-26.832.3'1000.990Aquarius
Mercury5th Feb 201719h 53m 51.6s-21d 51m 21.4s-0.205.4"851.250Sagittarius 
Mercury15th Feb 201720h 57m 42.5s-19d 06m 39.6s-0.405.0"921.336Capricornus
Mercury25th Feb 201722h 04m 02.0s-14d 08m 06.8s-0.904.9"971.379Aquarius
Venus5th Feb 201723h 59m 13.7s02d 28m 40.5s-4.832.6"370.512Pisces
Venus15th Feb 201700h 21m 25.6s06d 37m 26.3s-4.837.7"290.442Pisces
Venus25th Feb 201700h 34m 34.9s09d 55m 31.9s-4.844.1"210.379Pisces
Mars5th Feb 201700h 20m 53.2s01d 55m 07.8s1.105.0"931.876Pisces
Mars15th Feb 201700h 47m 56.2s04d 57m 44.6s1.204.8"931.943Pisces
Mars25th Feb 201701h 15m 01.7s07d 54m 13.7s1.304.7"942.010Pisces
Jupiter5th Feb 201713h 26m 51.7s-07d 34m 52.7s-2.239.5"994.992Virgo
Jupiter15th Feb 201713h 26m 28.7s-07d 29m 58.7s-2.240.7"994.849Virgo
Jupiter25th Feb 201713h 24m 55.6s-07d 18m 19.7s-2.341.7"1004.723Virgo
Saturn5th Feb 201717h 37m 15.9s-22d 02m 45.4s0.615.6"10010.636Ophiuchus
Saturn15th Feb 201717h 40m 48.2s-22d 04m 09.0s0.615.8"10010.497Ophiuchus
Saturn25th Feb 201717h 43m 48.8s-22d 04m 55.9s0.516.1"10010.346Sagittarius 
Uranus5th Feb 201701h 18m 12.3s07d 37m 32.2s5.903.5"10020.337Pisces
Uranus15th Feb 201701h 19m 29.6s07d 45m 36.3s5.903.4"10020.486Pisces
Uranus25th Feb 201701h 21m 01.4s07d 55m 03.8s5.903.4"10020.618Pisces
Neptune5th Feb 201722h 49m 28.2s-08d 23m 52.3s8.002.2"10030.846Aquarius
Neptune15th Feb 201722h 50m 49.3s-08d 15m 38.0s8.002.2"10030.905Aquarius
Neptune25th Feb 201722h 52m 13.4s-08d 07m 07.4s8.002.2"10030.937Aquarius

Sky Highlights - May 2017

Mercury
Mercury reaches greatest elongation west on May 17, 2017

Meteor Shower
Eta Aquariids meteor shower peaks on May 5th and 6th, 2017

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for May 2017

Northern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Mars (mag. +1.6)
South:- Jupiter (mag. -2.4)
Midnight
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.2)
Morning
South:- Saturn
East:- Venus (mag. -4.7)

Southern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Mars
North:- Jupiter
Midnight
Northwest:- Jupiter
North:- Saturn
Morning
Northwest:- Saturn
East:- Venus, Mercury (mag. +2.5 to -0.3), Neptune (mag. +7.9)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Telescopes:-
Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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